Bloodlines: tracing channel history with Phil Myers
This story concerns a group of shapers. A loose collective of gentlemen that shared their ideas with each other, both willingly and otherwise, whose work was advanced by collaboration and competition so the end product was better than any of them could create alone.
Of course shaping isn’t the only creative field that progresses by cross-pollination, so it’s fitting that the starting point of this article is the written work of another author.
In 2011 Andrew Kidman wrote a typically understated story about meeting Allan Byrne at Byrne’s shaping room at Currumbin.
The purpose of Kidman’s visit was to talk about channel pioneer, Jim Pollard. Byrne is occasionally credited as having invented channels, however Pollard had been shaping them for two years before Byrne even laid eyes on one. Yet when he did it was a veritable lightbulb moment.
“That moment where [Jim Pollard] explained it to me, that was one of those moments in my life where I was at the crossroads,” says Byrne to Kidman, “and he made me turn and follow a different direction away from everyone else.”
From then on channel bottoms, in particular deep clinker channels mixed with flyers and swallow tails, became Byrne’s signature design. And he, along with Pollard, Col Smith, Phil Myers, Marty Littlewood, Mike Davis, Jack Knight, and Erle Pederson formed a loose collective that specialised in channel bottoms. Together they pushed the design from the periphery to the cutting edge.
Byrne remained indebted to Pollard and he said as much to Andrew Kidman. “If he’s still alive tell him fucken thank you,” gushes Byrne. “He was one of those bright stars that flitted through the night sky and disappeared again. He changed my world.”
The interview ends with Kidman ordering a board from Al Byrne, a “period 1980 single fin, double flyer swallow, channel bottom.” A signature Al Byrne surfboard.
It was a timely purchase. Two years later Allan Byrne was gone.
Another story by another author
In 2015 Derek Rielly of Beach Grit suggested 10 things every surfer should do before they die. Number two on the list was ‘Order a surfboard from Simon Anderson’.
Rielly made many similar observations as Kidman - “Simon works out of a small factory in an anonymous industrial estate in Mona Vale” - though unlike Kidman, he had one clear eye on posterity. “Do your future grandchildren a service by ordering up a craft from the inventor of the Thruster.”
Rielly urges surfers to take advantage of Simon Anderson’s status as national living treasure. It’s sentimental, no doubt, and not a tone that Rielly usually strikes, yet there’s also an element of utility and it’s that aspect I clung on to.
Simon, however, ain't the only shaper that qualifies for the living treasure title. In my mind there's a few of 'em.
Last year, my own thoughts
There’s a wave near home that I’ve had designs on since I first saw it break. It lies on an otherwise dormant section of reef so it only breaks a handful of times each year. It’s not only rare but peculiar, requiring a particular strategy to surf it. The guys that do, and there’s only a few of them, take an angled entry from just behind the peak which allows a running start into a completely front loaded first section. There’s no other means to the end.
The infrequency of the wave has given me time to think about the best approach to surfing it and what equipment would be necessary.
Meanwhile, towards the end of last year I wrote an article on the history of channel bottoms, an assignment that required conversing with some of the aforementioned channel pioneers. Among them was Phil Myers.
Though the article was published in August it wasn’t concluded. The ideas within it stayed with me.
A phone call
“I’m looking for a modern gun shape. It’s gotta be a paddler with lots of foam under the chest for early entry, but also have a drawn out pintail for hold. And it needs to be fast - real fast.”
In my opinion, a sleek ten channel single fin is Phil Myers’ signature board. Phil himself may disagree, after all he sticks a decal reading ‘Col Smith Channel Model’ on the bottom of such boards.
The late Col Smith was also heavily influenced by Jim Pollard. When Col famously won the 1977 Pro Class Trials in Hawaii, one of the greatest underdog wins ever, he was riding Pollard’s equipment. That win introduced channel bottoms to the world. Col later branched off to develop his own style of channels and for a time he shaped alongside Phil at Free Flight making surfboards much like the one I ordered. The materials are modern, the planshape is timeless, but the channels carve a direct line back to 1980. Back when a loose collective of shapers - some of whom aren’t with us anymore - were pushing the outside of the design envelope.
Thirty years later and those ideas are still expedient for certain situations.
I had one more request to make before the call was over.
“And Phil, can you write ‘Bloodlines’ down the stringer?”